Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Mind

Prosthetic Limbs: Not Just Peg Legs and Hooks Any More

tentacle.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

OK, so---whoa. Anyone wielding designer Kaylene Kau's prosthetic tentacle would certainly become the instant favorite of any Elder Gods she met. But aside from it's ability to preserve her from being eaten by Cthulu, Kau's prosthetic tentacle abandons a way of thinking about prosthetics --- that they have to replicate the lost limb as exactly as possible ---- for something simple, usable, and elegant. Instead of a massively complicated set of servos, gears, and microchips the user manipulates the tentacle through two switches: One tightens a cord, causing the tentacle to curl and grip an object, the other lets it go. It's primarily designed as an aid in conjunction with a biological arm, but it can grip large and small objects effectively. The arm can join a suite of prosthetic limbs that are changing the way medicine and the rest of us think about replacing a lost limb. Last year, New Zealander Nadya Vessey, who's missing both legs, asked special effects company Weta (all three Lord of the Rings movies) to make her a mermaid prosthetic she could use for swimming. They needed eight staff members and two and half years, but they did it, and now Vessey swims in the ocean with her fin.

prosthetic-tentacle.jpg

Aimee Mullins, an actress, model, and athlete, has been rethinking legs for years. Mullins was born without calf bones (her fibulae, to be specific) and has had to function with artificial limbs her whole life. After achieving success as a track and field athlete, she gave a TED Talk, which launched her in a new direction. Instead of using limbs for utilitarian purposes only, she began to work with designers to bring art into the limbs. In 1999, designer Alexander McQueen built her carved wooden legs that look exactly as if she were wearing boots, and in 2002 Matthew Barney gave her transparent plastic legs for his Cremaster Cycle. Mullins soon realized her legs could be worn as objects of beauty, and as fashion accessories. These days, she has 12 pairs of legs, some of which allow her to change her height in a five-inch range between 6' 1" and 5' 8" (her usual height). In a TED talk she gave last year, Mullins told a story about a friend who was actually jealous of her ability to change her height. Science is laboring to provide other advantages to those with prosthetic limbs, including the possibility of running faster, jumping higher, and being stronger than the biological originals. No doubt my SNF colleague Kyle Munktrick approves. Not that we should get too carried away with the advantages of replacement limbs. Blogger Jon Kuniholm lost an arm in Iraq. He writes that when someone tells him his prosthetic arm his cool, he answers, "No it's not. When it's good enough that you want an elective amputation, then it'll be cool."

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 75%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In